For Cassie's 18th birthday, I wrote a list of things I wish I had known before I went to college. Cassie actually starts college this summer so I thought I could share a few points of insight with her. Good or bad these are things I learned through trial and error and offered to share with her. I'm sure I've missed some great insights, so what would you add to this list? What would have made a difference for you when you first left home and started college? What do you wish you had taken advantage of as a freshman? Or what habit made a great difference for you in college?
I'd love for you to add to my list and give Cassie a smattering of our collected wisdom.
1. Never, never, never take a 7AM class. You will never wake up for it and you will hate yourself all semester long for signing up for it. For that matter, I wouldn’t even take an 8AM class but some people are just gluttons for punishment. Just don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
2. Watch the class load your first semester. Don’t exceed more than 12 hours your first semester. It takes a while to adjust to the demands and rigors of college and you will only do yourself a favor if you keep the class load manageable your first year. Juggling school, work, social life, homework, church responsibilities, life skills, and family time takes a gigantic learning curve so cut yourself a bit of slack in the education department your first time around.
3. Life skills matter. Things like cooking meals, doing your laundry, cleaning your house, maintaining a car and tracking your finances. They are the kind of things that have to be done every day and make your life painful and unhappy if they aren’t done. Just succumb to their reality and do them every day and you will save yourself a lot of angst and worry later because you’ve already mastered the essentials.
4. Actually learn how to make your bed—every day. This sounds insane but at some point you will leave college, enter the real world and hopefully get married and have kids. Learning to make your bed now will just lighten the load. If you learn to make your bed every day then you grow accustomed to having a neat bed. If your bed is neat, you will pick up your clothes too. If your clothes are picked up then your bedroom will be clean. And then you won’t want the bathroom to look like trash, so you will keep it picked up. Bed-making and dishwashing are two habits that begin to breed cleanliness in your life. And when you suddenly don’t have Mom the-most-amazingly-clean-woman-in-America around anymore to clean up after you, you will wish you could invent her robotic double to come and live with you permanently because cleanliness is never so easy as it is when you live within the walls of her home. And it never will be again. TRUST ME. So, do yourself a favor and start picking up the cleanliness habit.
5. You have to earn money in order to spend it. This was a concept I understood in theory but it took a long time to put into practice. You have to buy things like your own laundry detergent and your own toilet paper and your own ketchup. That takes some getting used to. No more is your money just spent on clothes or entertainment or fun. Now you have to buy things to make your little household run and pay tuition and buy really expensive books that you will cart around for the next ten years before you marshal the guts to toss them. It is so hard to adjust to the realities of living on your own and paying your own way and then to find that you have to buy superfluous things like milk and bread with the very little funds you have at your disposal which will make you want to weep sometimes. So, get a job. Yes, even get a job on campus. And really, really pray that this education thing will pay off because you don’t ever want to work for so little money ever again.
6. Sleeping is not optional. The fun will be almost nonstop. Plus there will always be a big test to study for, a huge paper to write or a really deep conversation that needs to take place with someone. That is all in addition to the one million other things that need to take place each day. Sleep is almost always the first thing to go with a packed schedule. Don’t succumb though. Don’t believe that cutting yourself out of a few hours of sleep is not a big deal. It is. Sleep will make a major difference in your mood, your outlook, your intellect and your energy level. Sleep is the easiest thing to chuck when your stress level rises and your schedule is overflowing. If you hold on to sleep now, you will learn how to do stress and do a busy life while still getting enough sleep. Plus you will be perkier and happier and much more pleasant to be around. Sleep is not overrated.
7. Learn how to pack your own lunch. It will save you money, it will save you time and it will save your health. I would have saved so much more money in college if I learned this skill earlier. Plus, I would have been healthier. If you anticipate your need for food, you will prepare healthier and better food than you can grab when you are on the go and starving. Plus, you will learn how to feed yourself and not depend on vending machines or fast food to fuel your body. They both do a terrible job at it. Learning, studying and playing take energy and with little money at your disposal packing your lunch just makes sense all around.
8. Saying “no” is often the nicest thing you can do. The boys will be plentiful and good-looking. The big change with college is that most of them will be strangers to you. And just because they are at BYU and LDS doesn’t mean that they are great people. You will come across some stellar duds on the social scene. You may even come across some scary ones. Never say “yes” just to be nice or because someone keeps asking you out. This is where your gut and the Spirit really matter. Learn to trust how you feel. If some guy makes you feel funny—even the slightest bit—tell him “No.” The sooner he leaves the better. Learning to say “No” is really the nicest thing you can do for yourself and him.
9. Do all the crazy freshman activities that are offered. Go tunnel singing. Hike the Y. Participate in Freshman Academy. Play an intramural sport. Go ice blocking. You will make amazing friends in college and sometimes the way you will meet them is through doing all the crazy stuff that is offered. If you start taking advantage of every opportunity as a freshman you will get in the mode of doing whatever fun things that cross your path and you will meet great people along the way. Plus, you will pick up a habit that will help you meet new people throughout the rest of your college career. Don’t hold back. Just go for it.
10. Smile at everyone, just don’t talk about it in testimony meeting. A smile helps you feel warm, friendly and approachable and it helps you open your eyes to potential friends around you. Smiling will help you look up and look on the bright side too. Just don’t talk about how smiling changed your life or someone else’s in testimony meeting. Let every other freshman in your ward do that for you.
11. Talk to your professors. They are in the business of learning and they will help guide you through the labyrinth of academic life with great insight. Learn how to make friends with your professors and visit them during office hours. They will be some of the greatest people in your corner.
12. Do the honors program if you have the guts. The Great Works list alone in the Honors program will elevate your mind. Honors requires extra reading and research with a professor but it will put in some of the top classes on campus with some of the best and brightest minds available. This will hone your skills and your mind as you prepare for the future. It will take some work too. At least take some time to consider it. You won’t be sorry.
13. Grades do matter. You don’t know what the future holds for you. You may be perfectly happy with your major and the direction you choose now but ten years down the road you may decide to go to graduate school and suddenly that transcript from college is going to look awfully important.
14. Invest in a really good backpack. You will be carrying a lot of heavy books around campus for the next few years. A good backpack will save you as you walk hundreds of miles each week across campus. Then wear both straps on your shoulders. It will save you many a backache.
15. Ask questions. Remember there is no such thing as a stupid question (although I can’t promise that you won’t feel stupid asking some questions). Just get over it now. The only way to get anywhere in life is to learn how to ask great questions and the only way to do that is to learn how to ask some really bad questions in the process. Questions open up your mind and heart to truth. Are you ready for it?
16. Expand your cultural horizons. Spend a night at the BYU Planetarium. Go to every free exhibit at the Museum of Art. Attend free recitals and concerts. Go to International Cinema. Go on study abroad. Learn another language. You will never have so many free and discounted cultural activities right at your fingertips as you do in college. Take advantage. Listen the Men’s Chorus in person. Watch a ballroom dance competition. Soak up any horizon-expanding experience you can.
17. Call your parents. They love you and want to know what is happening in your life. They are also a wealth of information, common sense and life experience. You will start to see how truly wise they really are as they help you navigate these first years of adulthood. Just remember to say “I love you” every time and don’t forget to thank them often. They won’t ever tire of hearing it.
18. Write it down. These experiences will never come again and you will be able to relive them if you write it down. Even if it is one sentence a day, it will help. A journal can hold your secrets, listen to your heart and help you find your voice. Write it all down. You will be amazed at the life you lived when you look back over it one day.